The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 7, 2019
“Life from Life”
Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.” Luke 7:14-16
On December 6, 1956, my sister Kristine was born dead. Dad told me to be a good boy for Mom because she was very sad. Dad knew that Mom was suffering. There wasn’t much he could do about it. I remember how sorry I felt. Of course, there was nothing I could do. I was just a little boy.
Death lays us low. Nothing in this life is more final. People talk about health and safety. Think of the amount of money spent and words spoken about health care. And everybody dies. Spend and spend, talk and talk, make amazing advances in medical technology, and do you know what the result will be? Everybody will die. That means you and me. Nobody can stop death. It renders us utterly helpless, as helpless as that little three year old boy who watched his mother crying over the death of her little baby.
The widow from Zarephath was helpless in the face of death. So was the widow from Nain. Both had lost their only child, a son. Both met a man of God. The widow from Zarephath met Elijah, the prophet. The widow from Nain met Jesus, the prophet. Elijah raised the widow of Zarephath’s son from the dead. Jesus raised the widow of Nain’s son from the dead. Elijah preached the true word of God. Jesus preached the true word of God. Elijah raised the dead. Jesus raised the dead. We see many similarities between Elijah and Jesus.
But there is a critical difference. I call your attention to this difference so that you may know that you have life in Christ and in Christ alone. How did Elijah raise the dead boy? Here is what we read in 1 Kings, chapter seventeen:
Elijah prayed to God. He prayed to him who is the author of life. Three times he stretched himself out on the child, signifying his faith in the Triune God. The LORD God heard his prayer, the boy’s soul returned to his body, and he was alive. Elijah had no power in himself to raise the dead. He appealed to God. The power to raise the dead was not in Elijah’s prayer, but in the God to whom he prayed. Elijah was as helpless in the face of death as was the widow from Zarephath.
Contrast how Elijah raised up the son of the widow from Zarephath with the way that Jesus raised up the son of the widow of Nain. St. Luke records:
Elijah cried out, “O Lord my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.” Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” Elijah relied on a power outside of himself. Jesus relied on his own power. “I say to you, arise.” Jesus didn’t pray. He didn’t look for help from another. “I say to you, arise.”
What is it about our Christian faith that sets it apart from all other religions? What is unique to Christianity? Christ is. The crowd confessed Jesus as a great prophet. How is Christ different from every other prophet? What is it about Jesus that sets him apart from the Buddha, Zoroaster, Krishna, Muhammad, and dozens of other influential religious leaders? St. John tells us. He writes: “In him was life.”
You’re going to die. You cannot die in peace unless you know Jesus. I’m not talking about a sentimental relationship with him in which he walks with you and he talks with you. I’m talking about knowing the Jesus of the Bible. He is God. He is the second person of the Holy Trinity. He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made.
Jesus did not become God. The tiny little embryo within Mary’s womb was God in the flesh. This is why the church confesses Mary to be the God-bearer or mother of God. The child she bore was God. He received his divine nature from his Father in eternity and he received his human nature from his mother in time. True God and true man, Jesus is different from all other prophets and teachers. What Jesus says is so because Jesus says it.
In the beginning, when God said “Let there be,” it was the pre-incarnate Christ speaking. He is the Word by whom all things were made. When God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and Adam became a living soul, that breath of life was none other than the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son. He made that lump of lifeless clay a human being, made in the image of God.
The Father tells us to listen to the Son. The Holy Spirit grounds our faith in the Son. The Son became flesh and blood. He brought immortality to our mortal nature. It wasn’t mortal when God made us. God created us to live, not to die. It became mortal – that is, dying – only after we sinned against God. Death is sin’s wages. The reason anyone dies is because of his sin.
The widow from Nain relied on her son because she was a widow. He was for her more than an object of maternal devotion and love. He was her security in this life. She would depend on him in her old age. When death struck and left her alone, she faced the payment of sin. Her dear son, her beloved son, her only son was a sinner. That’s why he died. That’s why you will die. The wages of sin is death.
When we lived in Racine, I used to stop by Stegman’s store a few blocks from our house and would frequently get into a theological conversation with Mike Museitif who had bought the store from the Stegmans. Mike was from Jerusalem. He went by the name “Mike” because his real name was hard for us Americans to pronounce. He was a Muslim. Whenever I talked to him about how Jesus was our Savior from sin, Mike would interrupt me to assert that there is no such thing as original sin. The teaching of original sin offended him as a Muslim. Islam teaches us that we are born spiritually free, neither good nor bad, neither sinful nor righteous. We make ourselves good or bad by what we do. Other religions define sin as some kind of alienation from the soul of the universe. Others teach that the material world is bad so we must escape from it and become pure spirit. There are a variety of ways people deal with the reality of sin, but Jesus is the only one who has actually conquered it.
“Young man, I say to you, arise.” I say to you. Who says “I say to you”? He is true God and true man. He is the one who faced sin and death in battle. As surely as rain and snow yield green grass in the fields, sin yields death. You die because you sin. You sin because you are a sinner. He who said, “Young man, I say to you, arise,” went to war against sin and death.
God imputed the sin and guilt of the whole human race to Jesus. God laid it on him. The innocent suffered the guilt of the guilty. He suffered in innocence. When all of the sin of all of the sinners of all time meets the pure, the innocent, the obedient, the righteous Jesus Christ – what happens? The sin is destroyed. Jesus promises us, in the words of Martin Luther’s hymn,
That’s what happened. Christ’s innocence faced our sin and prevailed against it. As we sing in another hymn written by Martin Luther:
Only Jesus lived the righteous life God’s law demands. Only Jesus suffered and died for the sin of the world. Only Jesus faced sin and death on the cross and conquered them. Only Jesus raised himself from the dead, free from the sin he bore, victorious over sin, death, and hell. Only Jesus can speak words by his own authority, “I say to you, arise.”
But, thank God, we can speak words by Christ’s own authority that are as powerful today as were the words of Jesus that brought life to the widow from Nain’s son. As surely as that young man arose in response to Jesus’ almighty word, so we rise to eternal life by the power of the same word. Jesus speaks. His words are spirit, truth, and life. He speaks wherever his gospel sounds forth. He speaks and by speaking he effects what his words say.
You come to church burdened by the sins of the past week. Perhaps it’s been longer than a week. You have been impatient, unkind, and selfish. You’ve coveted what belonged to another. You’ve ignored God’s word. You’ve treasured your material goods above God’s words of eternal life. You’ve repeated gossip that hurt your neighbor, but you didn’t care because you loved yourself more that you loved him. You have sinned against God. Sin yields death. Your body is dying. You come to church in your sinful and dying body. God sees all of your sin. What does he do? What does he say?
He says, “I forgive you all your sins.” Oh, the words come from the pastor’s mouth, but it is Jesus doing the talking. It is Jesus who suffered for those sins and certainly has the right to forgive you. He says, “Take eat, this is my body. Take drink, this is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” When you eat and drink, Jesus gives you the medicine of immortality. You can face down death in confidence. Jesus is the source of life. He gave his life for you. He gives his life to you. He is your robe of righteousness. By taking away your sin he has taken away your death.
The one we love has died. We have seen it up close. Death is a cruel enemy. He brings us pain. But, listen and see. Jesus speaks. The dead rise. Jesus, by his word, raised the dead boy to life. Jesus, as he promised, raised himself from the dead. On the last day, Jesus will raise up to eternal life all those who trust his word.
Rolf D. Preus